Safe and (economically) sound weekend golf trips out West

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

It would be easy to forego your usual weekend golf excursion this summer. Gas prices are tipping $2 per gallon, the threat of terrorism stills looms large in many folks' minds, and the economy has seen better days.

It would be easy. It just wouldn't be healthy.

Each spring and summer, millions of Americans rely on long weekend getaways to cleanse their souls and refresh their minds. The question on many American's minds, though, is where this cleansing and refreshing can take place in a safe and economical fashion.

That said, a smattering of safe havens for affordable golf won't have you looking over your shoulder or dipping into your wallet too often.

Green Valley, Arizona: You know where Phoenix is, right? Well, keepgoing south. You know where Tucson is, right? Er, keep going. That's right - go all the way down Interstate 19 to the retirement town of Green Valley.Surprised? Don't be. Retirement towns in the Sun Belt generally mean lots of cheap golf. Green Valley obliges, but throws in some quality for good measure.

San Ignacio and Canoa Hills are two of the town's top tracks. Both sport similar themes - placement off the tee and precision on the approach. Hardly the stuff of the over 60 set. The caveat is you don't have to be long, or anywhere close to it, to enjoy either of these par-72s.

Affordable, quality golf and GV isn't content to sit on its hand. Phoenix area phenoms Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley recently put their design touch on Canoa Ranch, which opened in January. In true Green Valley fashion, the par-70 plays to a manageable 6,549 from the tips.

If three solid layouts priced under $50 aren't enough, the area oozes with even more options: Torres Blancas is a Lee Trevino design that plays through the old orchards of the valley; Haven, GV's first golf course, is still one of the region's better municipal tracks; Tubac Golf Resort, in the middle of a multi-million dollar facelift, is just 15 minutes south; and Southern Arizona's crown jewel - Rio Rico - awaits just north of the border.

On the safety front, GV's strict development codes have limited the amount of commercial and retail development. And the town's modest housing virtually ensures that no one famous or powerful is living within a 20-minute radius of downtown. GV is a 25-minute sprint from Tucson and a two-hour jog from Phoenix, so a full tank in a non-SUV should get you there and back, no problemo.

Laughlin, Nevada: At first glance in your trusty atlas, Laughlin appears to be in the middle of nowhere. A double-take reveals a gambling and golf hot spot just 100 miles south of Las Vegas on the banks of the Colorado River. About 8,000 full-time residents call Laughlin home, and visitors seeking a taste of Vegas sans the crime, traffic, safety threats and expensive hotel rooms will be pleasantly surprised.

Getting to Laughlin is easier than it first appears. Inexpensive, non-stop air service to Laughlin/Bullhead International from four western cities via Air Laughlin is available with fares running as low as $99, round trip. By highway, Laughlin is accessible from Kingman, Ariz., via Hwy. 68 and is about a three-hour drive from Flagstaff, Ariz.

So you made it. Good. Let's tee it up. Desert Lakes Golf Course across the river in Bullhead City, is a Florida-esque course, replete with palm trees, lakes and fairways flatter than two-week old soda. The course has a strong local membership base that prefers early morning tee times. Brave the afternoon heat and you'll have the place to yourself.

For a bit more of a challenge, some elevation changes, and a taste of desert, target golf check out Emerald River. The crown jewel of town is the Mojave Resort Golf Club on the Mojave Indian Reservation. Think Palm Springs meets Las Vegas Paiute Resort. Cerbat Cliffs, located an hour east in Kingman, is worth the drive.

Some might argue that Laughlin's status as a gambling town and all its pedestrian activity don't lend themselves to safety. But prospective visitors can take solace in the fact that Las Vegas (Laughlin times 1,000) runs plenty of interference.

Waco, Texas

Waco safe? You know what they say about lightning striking twice. Oh, and the President of the United States parks his plane here when visiting his Texas ranch. Rest assured, the eyes of safety are upon this central Texas town situated on the historical Brazos River. Now your eyes can focus on the obscene amount of affordable daily fee golf.

There are now six regulation pay-for-play courses available for public consumption. A noteworthy new daily-fee course, Bear Ridge, just opened a year ago and the Cottonwood Creek muni is a solid, sensible choice. Bear Ridge Golf Club is home to the Baylor University's men's and women's golf teams and is certainly suitable for weekend whackers. The course opened in 2001 on 205 acres in the southwest part of town. It was designed by Peter Jacobsen and Jim Hardy. At over 7,400 yards from the cranks, it is one of the longest layouts in the state.

Award-winning architect Ken Dye of Houston also cut his teeth in these here parts with the Cottonwood Creek Golf Course. Located in south Waco, the course plays along Cottonwood Creek with its impressive collection of cottonwood trees. If a quasi-military environment is the only way for you to gain peace of mind, head for the James B. Connally Golf Course. The Air Force base is closed, but the golf course (serving Waco since 1955) keeps plugging away. This Ralph Plummer designed track plays to nearly 7,000 from the tips, despite its age.

Waco is a locals town, so you can expect locals prices. You'd be hard-pressed to spend more than $50 at any of the above courses - even with a healthy bar tab.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of from 1997 to 2003.

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